The Asian country of Myanmar is home to a series of thousand-year old stupa temples and pagodas that appear to have been intentionally designed and built to resemble ancient pyramids. In this article, we´ll explore seven examples of this “pyramid” motif, and question whether these monuments may have been constructed atop actual prehistoric pyramids to encase and preserve them. We´ll look at how Myanmar´s Master Masons successfully married the “pyramid” shape to the Buddhist stupa and pagoda concepts. We´ll also see how this marriage to Buddhism may shed a new and interesting light on the mystery and meaning of ancient pyramids around the world.
There are thousands of temples across the southeast Asian country of Myanmar (formerly Burma) that resemble ancient pyramids. But these pyramids are not associated with Osiris, as they are in Egypt. Neither are these pyramids associated with Quetzalcoatl, as they are in Mexico. No, here, Asia´s pyramids are associated with the Buddha.
“The richness of religious architecture in Myanmar reflects the continuity of Buddhist tradition over at least the last 2,000 years…Most temples…sheltered an image. In nearly all cases, this was an image of the Buddha…”
— John Falconer, Elizabeth Moore, Burmese Design & Architecture
Modern scholars have failed to recognize a “pattern” in the presence of ancient pyramids worldwide, and so they have never bothered to investigate the possibility that the world´s pyramids may point to a “Universal Religion” that may have existed in Antiquity. By decoding the architecture of these Buddhist pyramid-temples, we may be able to gain insight into this theorized Universal Religion, as well as the architectural role of the world´s pyramids as it pertains to this Universal Religion.
Many of Myanmar´s pyramid-temples were built in Bagan (formerly Pagan), an ancient city located in the Mandalay Region of Myanmar, from the 9th to 13th centuries. The city was the capital of the “Kingdom of Pagan,” the first kingdom to unify the regions that would later constitute modern Myanmar. Scholars tell us that during the pinnacle of the kingdom’s power, more than 10,000 Buddhist temples, pagodas, and monasteries were constructed in the Bagan plains. Unfortunately, less than half of these structures survive.
In this article, we´ll take a brief look at seven of these mysterious monuments.
# 1) Shwesandaw Pagoda
The pyramidal “Shwesandaw Pagoda” resembles many of the ancient Mayan pyramids that we find in ruins in the Yucatan.
“The Shwesandaw Pagoda is a Buddhist pagoda located in Bagan, Burma. The pagoda contains a series of five terraces, topped with a cylindrical stupa, which has a bejeweled umbrella. The pagoda was built by King Anawrahta in 1057…Enshrined within the pagoda are sacred hairs of Gautama Buddha…”
An interesting and unique feature of this pyramid-temple is that there are stairways on all four sides. Most temples just have stairs on one side, and it is unclear why this pyramid-temple is different. With stairways on all four sides, the Shwesandaw Pagoda bears a strong resemblance to the pyramid of Quetzalcoatl (El Castillo) in Chichen Itza, Mexico:
Left: Mayan pyramid of Quetzalcoatl in Mexico. Right: Pyramidal-shaped Shwesandaw Pagoda in Myanmar.
This intriguing similarity is even more curious when we learn that, like the pyramid of Quetzalcoatl in Mexico, the pyramidal Shwesandaw Pagoda in Myanmar was built with curiously steep stairways, making the climb upward/downward a perilous ascent/descent:
Left: The unusually steep stairways of the Pyramid of Quetzalcoatl in Mexico. Right: The unusually steep stairways of the pyramidal Shwesandaw Pagoda in Myanmar.
As mentioned, Myanmar´s pyramidal monuments are intricately interwoven with various Buddhist teachings, and one can argue that in general Myanmar´s pyramids speak to the “apotheosis” of man, symbolized by the Buddha:
“Today, the immense Bagan archaeological zone is home to the largest and densest concentration of Buddhist temples, pagodas, stupas, and ruins in the world with many dating from the ancient Pagan period. The shape and construction of each building is highly significant in Buddhism with each component part taking on spiritual meaning.”
—Joachim Schliesinger, Origin of Man in Southeast Asia
It is interesting that the pyramid shape is here linked to Buddhism, a religion that teaches humans how to “awaken” to the spiritual nature of true reality and how to escape samsara (the material world) with its endless cycle of reincarnation. The word “Buddhism” stems from the Sanskrit word bodhi, which literally means “to awaken.”
While modern scholars will dismiss the notion that all ancient pyramids were somehow related to this Buddhist idea of awakening, the Victorian Era scholars would have been more receptive; the Victorians believed the pyramid cultures were “children” of the same ancestral “Mother Culture,” which some of them called “Atlantis” (following Plato).
Is it possible that Myanmar´s pyramid-temples, which were built long after the ancient pyramid cultures fell into decline, convey the same lost “Universal Religion” as the pyramids? —A Universal Religion that has been filitered through Buddhism, but nonetheless conveys the same metaphysical goal of “awakening”?
# 2) Dahmmayan Gyi Temple
Another Bagan temple that seems to have been purposely built to resemble an ancient pyramid is Dahmmayan Gyi Temple:
“Dhammayangyi Temple is a Buddhist temple located in Bagan, Myanmar. Largest of all the temples in Bagan, the Dhammayan as it is popularly known was built during the reign of King Narathu (1167-1170)…”
While scholars claim the Dhammayan Gyi pyramidal temple—and the rest of the pyramidal temples in Bagan—were built during the 11th to 13th centuries by the “Kingdom of Pagan,” there are no written records indicating who built these strange structures. There is even less evidence in the archaeological record that gives concrete evidence of the history of the region. It may very well be that scholars are giving a very modern origin for what may be a very ancient kingdom. The mainstream view holds that:
“The Kingdom of Pagan (849-1297) was the first kingdom to unify the regions that would later constitute modern-day Burma (Myanmar). Pagan’s 250-year rule…laid the foundation for the ascent of Burmese language and culture, the spread of Burman ethnicity in Upper Burma, and the growth of Theravada Buddhism in Burma and in mainland Southeast Asia.”
This mainstream view, which was established by Britain during the British colonial period, clashes with some of the native chronicles that claim the history of the Kingdom of Pagan is rooted in a far older history, culture, and tradition:
“Considerable differences exist between the views of modern scholarship and various chronicle narratives…European scholars of the British colonial period were…skeptical, dismissing outright the chronicle tradition of early Burmese …They doubted the antiquity of the chronicle tradition, and dismissed the possibility that any sort of civilization in Burma could be much older than 500 CE.”
In the past few decades, some scholars have begun reexamining the evidence. These scholars believe it is unacceptable to base Myanmar´s history on the “outsider” perspective of British colonialists and European scholars of the past, who dismissed out of hand the native Burmese account of their own history.
“Reconstruction of this part of the early Burmese history has been ongoing, and the views of the scholarship evolving…Modern scholarship, with the benefit of latest research, now holds a far more nuanced view. Latest research shows that when stripped of the legendary elements, which are now viewed as allegories, the chronicle narratives largely conform to the evidence. Archaeological evidence shows that many of the places mentioned in the royal records have indeed been inhabited continuously for at least 3500 years…”
I suspect Bagan´s history stretches back much further than even 1500 BC. Furthermore, I believe that an ancient pyramid-building culture may have existed in Bagan during a formative period, and may have passed on their “pyramid tradition” to their descendants, which would explain Myanmar´s more modern pyramid-temples.
The existence of ancient pyramids just north of Myanmar in Xi´an, China is cultural evidence pointing to a very ancient and powerful tradition of pyramid construction in the region.
Pyramids in Xi´an China, just north of Myanmar, lend credence to the theory that Myanmar´s pyramid temples may have been based on a much older pyramid-building tradition in Myanmar.
But, if this theory is correct, then where exactly are all the ancient pyramids of Myanmar? If Myanmar´s pyramid-temples are based on an older ancestral “pyramid tradition” then where are all of Myanamar´s ancient pyramids?
I believe they may be sitting at the inner core of Myanmar´s pyramid-temples themselves. In other words, Myanmar´s pyramid-temples may be recent “re-constructions” or “restorations” or “refurbishings” of far more ancient pyramidal structures that lie beneath or rather inside these pyramid-temples, and that have been heavily eroded. The pyramid-temples we see today in Bagan may be recent structures that have been built as “enclosures” to shelter and preserve the deteriorated and fallen ruins of far older and far more important pyramidal structures.
The stonemasons of the Kingdom of Pagan may have used the same brick-by-brick method of salvaging the more ancient structures that modern Egyptologists are using to preserve the Great Sphinx:
The modern brick-by-brick method of “covering over” and thus preserving the prehistoric Sphinx statue.
While this theory may sound far-fetched, evidence shows cultural, artistic, religious and symbolic similarities between dynastic Egypt and Myanmar, indicating a connection. For example, just as the Great Pyramid in Egypt is missing its top courses (presumably because it was never completed) Dhammayan Gyi Temple was left “unfinished”:
“Burmese chronicles state that while the construction of the temple was in the process, the king was assassinated by some Indians and thus the temple was not completed.”
Like the Great Pyramid in Egypt, Dhammayan Gyi Temple is an “unfinished” pyramidal structure.
What´s more, just as the Great Pyramid in Egypt was “sealed off” from supposed grave robbers, so the interior of Dhammayan Gyi Temple was “bricked up”:
“The temple’s interior is bricked up for unknown reasons, thus only the four porches and the outer corridors are accessible.”
An “unfinished” pyramidal monument whose inner core was “sealed off” for unknown reasons should sound familiar to anyone who has studied the Great Pyramid in Egypt.
Like many other pyramids across the world, the great Pyramid in Egypt appears unfinished.
Is there a link? What exactly lies inside this thousand-year old pyramidal temple in Myanmar? Could there be a far more ancient pyramid at its core? A pyramid contemporary with the Egyptian, Chinese, and Mayan pyramids?
Note in the image below how the Buddha statue inside the Dhammayan Gyi Temple (below left) shows the Buddha´s hand with the same anatomically incorrect “pinky finger” as depicted in ancient Egyptian art (below right). In both artistic representations, the pinky fingers are extraordinarily long:
Left: Buddha´s extraordinarily long pinky finger. Right: Egyptian art depicting extraordinarily long pinky fingers. This Egypt / Myanmar connection is only one of many parallels.
This parallel may indicate a prehistoric link that connects the artistic tradition of Dynastic Egypt to the artistic tradition of Myanmar. This is a small detail, but its ramifications may be significant.
A similar connection linking Myanmar´s pyramid-temples to the more ancient pyramid cultures is visible at Myanmar´s Bulethi Temple.
# 3) Bulethi Temple
Like the Shwesandaw Pagoda, the Bulethi Temple has stairways on all four sides, giving it the appearance of a Mayan pyramid. Very little is known about this temple and very little literature exists explaining it. We are left to marvel at the parallels to the ancient Mayan—and Egyptian—pyramids. Yet parallel pyramids are just the tip of the iceberg.
For example, one of the main tourist attractions of Myanmar is the so-called Mingun Bell, described as the second heaviest functioning bell in the world. Atop the bell we find the symbolism of two lions (or lion-like creatures) depicted back-to-back and facing opposite directions:
Mingun Bell, Mingun, near Mandalay, Myanmar depicts lions or lion-like creatures facing back-to-back.
As I´ve been pointing out for the past twenty years, this same back-to-back depiction of lions is a universal tradition found in many different parts of the world, most notably among the pyramid cultures in Mexico and Egypt, as we can see below:
Left: Mayan depiction of twin lions or lion-like creatures depicted as back-to-back. Right: Egyptian depiction of twin lions back-to-back.
In my books Written in Stone (2011) and The Missing Link (2016), I show how this pattern of “twin lions” existed among ancient cultures around the world. I explain how the symbolism of these back-to-back lions signifies what the Symbolist Egyptologist Schwaller de Lubicz described as the “Eternal Now,” a concept found in Buddhism. (See my article: “The Esoteric Meaning of Egypt´s Aker Lions.”)
More links to the pyramid cultures are apparent in the “Triptych” three-door entrances visible on the facades of many of Myanmar´s pyramid-temples.
# 4) Salumani Temple
The Sulamani Temple is one example. A Buddhist temple built in 1183 by King Narapatisithu, the Sulamani Temple was restored in 1994 after an earthquake. As with the temples described above, Salumani Temple was designed and built in the shape of a step pyramid. But what is even more striking is the fact that Salumani Temple is not just a pyramidal temple; it is what I describe as a “Triptych Temple,” a temple with three distinct entry doorways with the door in the middle larger and wider than the twin doors flanking it:
Salumani Temple is a “Triptych Temple” made up of three doors, with the door in the middle larger and wider than the twin doors flanking it.
As I explained in Written in Stone, the “Triptych Temple” three-door entryway is a common feature among temples built across the ancient world, especially among the pyramid cultures. This discovery has not yet been recognized by archaeologists. My research shows that Triptych Temples symbolize the same Universal Religion, a “balance of opposites” wisdom-tradition expressing the eastern concept of “non-duality” that was shared by all ancient cultures, bar none.
This Universal Religion teaches that we can achieive a metaphysical awakening by balancing the duality inherent in Creation, including the duality inherent in our own physical bodies. We can do this via a process of inner alchemy by finding the center between duality; this idea is signified by (taking) the center door between extremes or opposite forces.
“Triptych Temple” three-door entryways symbolize the Universal Religion of the “balance of opposites” (Coincidentia Oppositorum in Latin) shared by the pyramid cultures. More here: http://www.richardcassaro.com/research)
It is interesting that this “Middle Path” tradition expressed by the Triptych Temple is also present in Buddhism. The Buddha´s “Middle Way” taught that the true path to enlightenment and spiritual illumination is to be found by striking a perfect balance between opposites:
“Buddha was moved by the innate suffering of humanity. He meditated on this alone for an extended period of time…He reached enlightenment, discovering what Buddhists call the Middle Way, a path of spiritual practice to end suffering (dukkha) from rebirths in Saṃsāra…
…An important guiding principle of Buddhist practice is the Middle Way. It was a part of Buddha’s first sermon, where he presented…a ‘middle way’ between the extremes of asceticism and hedonistic sense pleasures.”
By featuring a massive three-door Triptych pattern, the Sulamani Temple, like many other Buddhist temples, shows us a deep and powerful link to the ancient Universal Religion of the pyramid cultures.
Like Sulamani Temple, many other pyramidal structures on the Bagan plains are Triptych Temples.
# 5) That Byin Nyu
The majestic That Byin Nyu pyramidal monument, a 12th Century Buddhist temple which is believed to have been built during the reign of King Alaungsithu, is a Triptych Temple. That Byin Nyu takes its name from the “omniscience” of the Buddha and the word is associated with the phrase “knowing thoroughly and seeing widely.”
As with the rest of the temples featured in the present article, That Byin Nyu is a massive pyramidal edifice with a series of steps that flow inward finding their apex at the center of the structure. Towering above the other monuments of Bagan, That Byin Nyu is a Triptych Temple:
That Byin Nyu is a “Triptych Temple” made up of three doors, with the door in the middle larger and wider than the twin doors flanking it.
That Byin Nyu Temple has the shape of a cross, which seems to symbolize the crossing of duality or the joining together of opposing forces, which is the meaning of the Triptych. There are two primary storeys, and there is a large seated Buddha image located on the second storey.
The Triptych pattern encoded into this pyramidal Buddhist temple likely signifies the Middle Way doctrine of the Buddha. After all, the goal of the “coincidentia oppositorum” or “balancing duality” is awakening—the very same idea symbolized by the golden Buddha statue depicted inside That Byin Nyu Temple, near the structure´s apex:
Large Buddha image in gold seated on a throne atop That Byin Nyu Temple.
We “moderns” see gold as symbolizing material wealth; but in ancient cultures and religious traditions, like Buddhism, gold had deep spiritual significance. It symbolized spiritual awakening. Many “laughing Buddha” statues were painted gold or made of solid gold as symbols of happiness and good health. A great example is the famous “Golden Buddha” of Wat Traimit Temple in Thailand, which weighs more than five tons. Gold represented enlightenment via the Middle Way.
This concept of “spiritual awakening” is visible at the next temple we´ll look, the Gawdaw Palin Temple.
# 6) Gawdaw Palin Temple
As with the first five temples in this article, the Gawdaw Palin Temple is shaped like a step pyramid. Construction of this pagoda is dated to the early 1200s, and since that time the temple has been used for meditation, devotional worship of the Buddha, and other Buddhist rituals. It suffered damage during a massive earthquake in 1975 earthquake and was reconstructed in the following years.
Known as the second tallest temple in Bagan, Gawdaw Palin is two storeys tall, and consists of three lower terraces and four upper terraces. The upper courses depict a three-door Triptych entry, very much like the Sulamani Temple and the That Byin Nyu Temple. The golden Buddha statues inside leave little doubt that this pyramidal temple´s Triptych entrance signifies the Buddhist concept of awakening.
The final temple we´ll look at is the most famous of them all, Ananda Temple.
# 7) Ananda Temple
Said to have been built around 1105 by King Kyanzittha, the perfectly proportioned Ananda Temple is described as the finest, largest, best preserved, and most revered of all Bagan´s temples. After suffering damage in the 1975 earthquake, it was carefully restored to its former glory.
“The most important temple is the Ananda Temple (1105), built as an ascending pyramid topped by a spire. Constructed of brick covered by white stucco, it rises six terraces above its base. Pagodas and other structures are built into it, giving it mass and strength. It is named for the Buddha´s personal attendant and cousin.”
—Norbert C. Brockman, Encyclopedia of Sacred Places
The Buddhist temple houses four standing Buddhas, each one facing the cardinal direction of East, North, West and South.
“The four standing Buddhas (pictured) are adorned with gold leaf and each Buddha image faces a direction, from north to south, stated to represent attainment of a state of nirvana…”
If the “attainment of Nirvana” is the ultimate meaning of the pyramidal temples of Myanmar, then could it also be the meaning and purpose of other more ancient pyramids around the world?
Is this same Buddhist concept of “awakening” also the meaning of all the world´s pyramids?
Were Myanmar´s temples designed to look like ancient pyramids to express this metaphysical truth?
Was there a prehistoric pyramid tradition that once flourished in Myanmar? And could Myanmar´s pyramids be “shrouds” and “memorials” covering more ancient pyramids?
You can find more information on pyramid symbolism and meaning in my books Written in Stone and The Missing Link:
Richard Cassaro’s new book, The Missing Link, explores the meaning, transformations and propagation of the ancient world’s most important religious icon. His first book, Written in Stone, is a wide-ranging exploration of hitherto-unknown connections among Freemasons, medieval cathedral builders and the creators of important ancient monuments, in support of his theory that a spiritually advanced mother culture, lost to history, is behind many of the world’s architectural and artistic traditions.
Prior to the publication of Written in Stone, Cassaro enjoyed a successful career as a U.S. correspondent, professional journalist, and photo researcher for Rizzoli Publications, one of the world’s leading media organizations. Cassaro, who is a graduate of Pace University in New York City, has examined first-hand the ancient ruins and mystical traditions of Egypt, Mexico, Greece, Italy, Sicily, France, England, India, Peru and Spain; he has lectured on his theories to great acclaim in the United States, Egypt, Italy, Spain and Peru.Richard Cassaro © Copyright, All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to www.RichardCassaro.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
Richard Cassaro © Copyright, All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to www.RichardCassaro.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.